MS/DOJ - Focus shifts to media players

In the ongoing remedy phase of the Microsoft Corp. antitrust case, attention Monday focused on media players made by the software giant's rival and whether these applications are facing a fate similar to Netscape Communications Corp.'s Navigator.

Navigator's adoption, particularly among corporate enterprises, suffered when Microsoft's Internet Explorer became an inseparable part of its operating system. The nonsettling states pursuing tougher remedies want to force Microsoft to make its media player code removable from the operating system, allowing PC makers to substitute Microsoft products with those made by competitors.

In court, states' attorney John Schmidtlein attempted to show that Microsoft was increasing the dependency of its media player on the operating system, even after the U.S. District Court of Appeals two years ago faulted the company for commingling browser code with the operating system.

But Will Poole, a Microsoft vice president responsible for the Windows New Media Platforms Division, which builds media player for the operating system, defended his company's actions and disputed any contention that its media player was in any way similar to Navigator -- a potential platform that developers could use to build applications to directly, thus lessening the importance of the underlyingoperating system.

Poole and Schmidtlein sparred over whether PC makers would install rival media players if they weren't forced to take Microsoft's Windows Media Player.

"I believe our competitors will pay them (PC makers) not to carry it, Poole said. "They will weigh benefits between the payment they receive and the value they take out of the system."

"I know of no good reason why they would take that technology out," Poole said, at one point.

If Microsoft were forced to allow PC makers to add and subtract its media player code, Microsoft "would have to compete harder and innovate harder," Schmidtlein said.

Poole, however, said that if Microsoft's media player software code were removed the operating system would not support many rival media players.

Schmidtlein's line of questioning faced problems, particularly in regard to Windows XP Embedded, a version of the operating system used in dedicated devices such as cash registers that allows users to add and subtract "middleware" such as media players. The states are using XP Embedded to demonstrate that Microsoft can separate applications from its operating system. Schmidtlein atone point asked Poole to give his best educated guess on an aspect of the embedded system's operation. Microsoft's attorney objected to a speculative answer and Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreed.

"I'm not interested in guesses," Kollar-Kotelly said. "He either knows it or he doesn't."

On the issue of commingling or codependency of code, Poole acknowledged under questioning that the codependency of its media player with the operating system was increasing, but he also said that system design was being affected by the ongoing antitrust case. "We have certainly done our best to forecast where things might go," said Poole, referring to the antitrust case.

Poole finished his testimony early in the afternoon and was followed on the witness stand by Linda Wolfe Averett, a unit product manager for Windows Media Player. Her testimony is intended to rebut Dave Richards, RealNetworks' vice president of consumer systems, who testified as a witness for the nine nonsettling states and the District of Columbia. Richards, in court, said that Microsoft's software licensing terms are "severe and onerous," and have harmed his company.

The nonsettling states have refused to sign a Bush administration-backed settlement in the case. The judge is considering their remedies, which include forcing Microsoft to produce a stripped down version of its operating system, carry Java, allow the porting of Office to other operating systems, and provide developers with access to the Windows source code.

The case is nearing the end. Microsoft has three more witnesses to call: Jim Allchin, its group vice president for the platforms division; Kenneth Elzinga, professor of economics at the University of Virginia, and John K. Bennett, a computing science professor at the University of Colorado.

Both sides are also expected to call rebuttal witnesses. The remedy phase could finish in two weeks.

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